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March 25, 2019

India lays bares coercive diplomacy against Pakistan


March 25, 2019

India has since long indulged in a zero-sum game with Pakistan, refusing dialogue and employed instead a series of counterproductive coercive options to compel Pakistan to give up supporting the Kashmir movement, the unresolved issue that has propelled the region to the precipice of war many times.

Indian Army’s Maj Akshat Upadhyay in his 2018 book, “Coercive Diplomacy Against Pakistan: Options and Effectiveness in Non-Nuclear Conflict Space in Current Times,” explores the effectiveness of coercive diplomacy employed against Pakistan. Written with a military mindset, the book advocates full application of a series of economic, diplomatic and economic coercive options to dissuade Pakistan from supporting the Kashmir movement. It is reflective of prevailing Indian thinking. During discussions with the retired military officers and diplomats, who held critical assignments, some of them recommended withdrawing the MFN status from Pakistan, while others believed that it will be largely symbolic since the volume of trade between the two is very low.

On internationally isolating Pakistan, the book suggests sustained efforts in the P 5 capitals, GCC countries and international financial and other global organisations to whitewash Islamabad. We have seen some Indian success in that direction. Some of the Indian respondents in the book felt that it only has a temporary efficacy citing Islamabad’s engagement being critical to the US for settlement of Afghan conflict and its impending withdrawal despite their waning influence.

Another serious tool discussed in the book was to abrogate the Indus Water Treaty and diverting Indus to strangle Pakistan’s economy and trigger drought conditions. The proposal of diverting the Indus is a fool’s paradise as it would flood the Indian cities and it would take huge resources and decades to build dams or reservoirs to absorb it, besides exposing it to attacks requiring even more resources to guard them. However, on a more serious note there are suggestion for India to revive work on the Salal, Sawalkot and Baglihar dams on the Chenab River and to use that as an effective weapon. Another proposal was to utilise the 20 percent of the three eastern rivers to damage Pakistan’s agriculture. India was counselled to engage Afghanistan on developing storages over the Kabul River to manipulate river flows to the neighbouring country.

Then there were discussions and debate on the effectiveness of sub conventional tactics across Pakistan on the likes of RAW’s Kalbushan Yadav conducting spying, subversion and sabotage from Iran or Afghanistan.

As a military strategy, the book discussed the Cold Start Doctrine and other Limited Warfare scenarios to acquire objectives without raising the spectre of a nuclear attack. They visualize “grabbing, Pakistani territory in the unpopulated desert territory across the international border in Rajasthan, would be easier but felt the Indian Army would not be able to hold on to it for long due to punishing attacks from the Pakistan Army.” Furthermore, there would be destabilizing attacks from Kashmiris and Afghans in India. In a scenario of truly existential threat, Pakistan could use tactical nuclear weapons to attack Indian troops, they thought.

Taking a leaf out of US and Israel preemptive stratagem, some of the respondents proffered aerial strikes, but then the risks of Indian jets being shot down and Islamabad retaliation was also factored in leading to severe escalation. Similarly, cruise missile strikes were also discussed and counter argued on the premise that it will set a dangerous new precedent between the two inimical neighbors leading to unpredictably precarious escalation.

On Feb 26th and in days that followed we saw both, Balakot aggression leading to a swift retaliation which despite the release of the Indian pilot to de escalate, panned out to India upping the ante by threatening a wave of missile attacks at Pakistani cities. Pakistan responded by warning of a three fold retaliation and shutting down the airspace to avoid any Indian mischief like the MH 17 tragedy in 2014 of the Malaysian passenger jet when it was shot out of the skies by Ukrainian Buk missiles.

India’s coercion has its limitations. Indian commanders have wargamed different military options vis-à-vis Islamabad and none allows them a walk over Pakistan. Its conventional capabilities will keep them at arms’s length. The interception of Indian submarine in the Arabian Sea and its presence around Mekran coast near the SLOCs emerging from Hormuz will continue to deter any Indian Navy plans of Pakistan’s economic blockade. This strategy for quick solutions is both costly and self-defeating.

Solution lies in diplomacy alone, be it back channel or otherwise. The fact is that whenever the two countries remained diplomatically engaged, the hostilities were down. The back channel during Gen Musharraf’s time had almost resolved the Kashmir issue and so was the proposed 2007 anti-terrorism mechanism. The nuclear CBMs agreed during Vajpayee’s Lahore visit continue to hold and so do the notification for missile test fire. Things remained calm from 2015-2016, but then New Delhi’s South Block turned the foreign policy into a populist tool in the hands of ultra nationalists and a subject of media frenzy which has narrowed down India’s diplomatic options with Pakistan. Historically narrow nationalism and populism have only led nations to utter destruction.

But the continued brutal repression in Kashmir remains precipitously dangerous.It is now the third generation of Kashmiris who are sustaining the indigenous movement deeply agitated by Modi’s attempts to take away the special and autonomous status guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and blinding of the next generation of Kashmiris as policy. Modi must pay heed to Chanakya’s advice in Arthasasthra: “A ruler with loyal people accomplishes his task even with a little help because of their cooperation.” Unless New Delhi abandons plans to colonise the valley, the resistance would only intensify, and in words of former Indian RAW chief AS Dullat “there is a looming threat the militancy will spin out of everybody’s control.”

Combined with human rights abuses in Kashmir, the Line of Control is a powder keg just waiting to go off. Tragically, the LOC has never been peaceful. Many times before it has escalated to horrifying levels. In 2017 Indian forces committed more than 1,970 ceasefire violations. In 2018, 14 civilians died and 65 were injured due to 330 ceasefire violations in 2018. If this was not worse, the Indian election season has seen the civilian population on the Pakistan side of the LoC attacked by heavy guns, mortars, and anti tank missiles. This could be touch and go. Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz in his book, “Between Dreams and Realities,” says “From 1994 onwards India started incessant firing on the Neelum Valley, Azad Kashmir leading to closure of road and massive losses to the civilian population prompting the UNMOGIP to seek UN’s help to conduct humanitarian convoys for relief to the besieged population in 1996-1997. In retaliation Pakistan targeted the Dras Kargil road used for Indian supplies to Siachen prompting India to seek DGMO level talks. But, the Indians continued to target civilians on Azad Kashmir side of LOC.

“Kargil operation was planned as a kind of retaliation for the Indian action in the Neelum Valley from 1994-96.” It was limited tactical defensive operation which incrementally escalated as a result of India raising the military, political and diplomatic ante and spun out of control.” We do not want to see that happen again.

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